Gleanings of the Week Ending December 1, 2018

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

How to feed a cat: Consensus statement to the veterinary community: Reducing stress-related eating problems -- ScienceDaily – Puzzle feeders and putting food in different places….make meal time more interesting!

Examining Grad Student Mental Health | The Scientist Magazine® - There are a lot of stressors during graduate school….and many students become depressed or develop other mental health issues. Students, faculty and university administrators are noticing that more needs to be done to help grad students through the challenges of this phase of their education.

Why Fall Color Has Been So Meh in Parts of the U.S. This Year | Smart News | Smithsonian – This article came out a few weeks ago….just getting around to putting in the gleanings. The explanation of why our area had such a lack luster fall is interesting and it might become the norm as the area gets wetter and warmer.

BBC - Earth News - Legless frogs mystery solved – Predatory dragonfly nymphs eat legs of tadpoles! This is an article from 2009…but it was news to me. We find dragonfly nymphs in almost all the streams and rivers around where I live…but I haven’t seen any legless frogs.

2 Solar Ovens Reviewed | CleanTechnica – I wonder how many people living in their RV or travel trailer make use of this type of oven to minimize propane and/or electricity usage.

Large-Scale Tar Production May Have Fueled Viking Expansion - Archaeology Magazine – Tar to waterproof ships. I was reminded of the ‘Connections’ series that often showed how a key technologic advance enabled something historically significant.

Yellowstone streams recovering thanks to wolf reintroduction -- ScienceDaily – The willows are growing taller along the banks of streams, making the banks more stable…since the wolfs are back and impacting elk browsing.

Gaudí's El Capricho, an Early Gem Located in North Spain – It’s hard to see it as a place that people would really live!

How invasive earthworm feces is altering US soils -- ScienceDaily – Asian jumping worms are changing the soils of the Midwest and East Coast of the US….and not for the better.

Why did Tutankhamun have a dagger made from a meteorite? – When Tutankhamun died, iron was rarer than gold. The Egyptians did not know how to process iron from ores…but they did know that iron meteorites came from the sky which might have made the material symbolic for them. Objects made from it would have been reserved for high-status people.

Ten Little Celebrations – November 2018

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At the beginning of November, we had a short burst of color before the leaves fell off the trees. I celebrated a glorious fall day…wishing the season had not been so short this year.

HoLLIE (Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment) graduation was this month after accumulating enough volunteer hours since finishing the class last spring.

And then came the Festival of the Cranes with so many little celebrations:

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Seeing sandhill cranes in flight – being close enough to their fly out to hear the first few high-power flaps of their wings.

Seeing two barn owls circle above the field where I was standing. It was a first for me….so beautiful and ghost-like.

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Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. It was my first visit to the place and it’s hard to choose the high point maybe it was the screwbean mesquite the herd of pronghorn playing a running game with our caravan or seeing a shrike with a meal.

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Hooded Mergansers. It was not the first time I had seen the birds (there were some on a local (Maryland) pond we visited during our 5th HoLLIE class). But they were not displaying like the birds we saw during the Festival of the Cranes.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. What an amazing place….and great hosts to the Festival of the Cranes. I am already planning to go again! There are so many sights and sounds to celebrate here.

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Home again. I celebrate returning every time I am away for longer than a couple days.

Bald Eagle seen from my office window. The morning we left to drive to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, a bald eagle flew over the forest behind our house while I was shutting down my laptop for the road trip. It continued over our house. Since I saw a pair of eagles soaring a nearby shopping center recently, I think perhaps their nest is somewhere in the forest along the Middle Patuxent River near us. What a way to start the Thanksgiving holiday!

Thanksgiving….celebrating the day…realizing how much I am thankful for.

In the Fall Yard – November 2018

We finally got some vivid leaf colors in the trees behind our house. The usual vibrant yellows of the tulip poplars were almost missing since those leaves turned brown quickly before they even left the big trees this year.  The pines were shedding some needles too.

A rain came, and a lot of leaves fell from the trees within a day or two of achieving good color. I let the leaves dry for a day or two then went out to rake. The temperature was in the 50s and the sky was clear. The trees still had a few leaves…but most were on the ground.

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My plan was to rake leaves that were on grass into areas where deep shade prevented grass from growing. The area between the compost bin and the red maple and then back to the forest is a great location for piles of leaves from the rest of the yard.

I didn’t put any more leaves in the compost bin because they were just raked…not shredded. I discovered that a lot of the pine needles had fallen with the rain, so I got a trash can full of them and put them into the compost. How nice to have pine scented compost!

Red Maple

Our red maple has not been as spectacular this fall as it usually is. The rains and temperatures in September and October kept it green for a very long time and when it did start to turn red most of the leaves looked muddy rather than the rich red they usually display. The leaves began to fall before they were fully red.

The leaves on the tree at the very end of October finally changed to red…and then there was a lot of rain on November 2 and most leaves fell.

Now I’m hoping for some dry days to make the leaves easier to rake into the forest….

At least the maple put on a short show. The tulip poplars seem to be going from green to brown rather than putting on a dazzling yellow show as they do most years.

In the Middle Patuxent at MPEA


It was a cold morning last week when I headed out at dawn to help set up for another Middle Patuxent stream assessment – this time at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area which is upstream from the other Middle Patuxent field trips I had done this fall. It was a field trip that had been canceled previously because of high water (see the post about hike I made that day).

The day was cloudy but dry. I enjoyed the hike down to the river.

The water was low enough that we could walk across near one of the riffles without jumping from rock to rock. I was wearing two pairs of socks to fill out my boots and keep my feet warm. My table got macroinvertebrate identification (after we captured them) was set up on a gravel island in the middle of the river. The other two were on the bank further downstream.


Mayfly larvae were the more numerous critters we found – all sizes. There were numerous good photos taken with the macro lens by the students.

But the highlights of the day were two larger critters. The crayfish was large enough that it had to be in the plastic bin while the hellgrammite fit into the ice cube tray. Photos of these did not require the macro lens!

The group of 60 students managed reasonably well in the cold; it might have been a little warmer at the river level when we were dry. I realized as I walked back up the path afterwards that I was cold but for the two hours I was in the river – I was warm enough and overwhelmingly focused on the experience with the students.

Saturday Hike – Part I

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Last Saturday, I lead a hike from Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont Carriage House down to the Patapsco River. It was a cool gray morning – a good day for a fall hike.

The starlings and male brown-headed cowbirds were busy around the carriage house when I arrived.

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I appreciated the leaf color of the sugar maple near the carriage house since most of the other leaves in our area seem to be staying green on the trees or falling off before they change color

I noticed that the pods on the butterfly weed had opened but the seeds were still tightly packed inside. Perhaps the rain has come frequently enough this year that the white fibers haven’t dried out enough to become the parachutes for the seeds.

That was the calm before the hike. The list of people that had signed up was long – over 50 people. But only 21 showed up. That was large enough and I was glad that another volunteer was available to bring up the rear on the way down and be at the front for the uphill trek.

More about the hike itself in tomorrow’s post.

Common Buckeye Butterfly

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Last Saturday, I was at Robinson Nature Center about noon enjoying the native plant garden near the front of the nature center. When I noticed a Common Bucky Butterfly enjoying some of the fall flowers.

I took pictures from several perspectives. The colors and markings are very distinctive. It has knobs on the end of the antennae and whitish palpi between its eyes. It’s reported to like flowers with yellow centers…and that it what this individual was enjoying.

The entrance of the nature center has a nice display of fall pumpkins and squash.

I had come to the nature center earlier to participate look at macroinvertebrates in this part of the Middle Patuxent – upstream from the location for the two assessment with high schoolers earlier this week. Two differences: 1) no clams at Robinson….lots of them further down the river and 2) we found a snail…didn’t find any downstream. We found more of everything but that could have been the difference between and adult group and high schoolers….and we had more time to do the project.

A Few Minutes Observing…a female cardinal

Taking pictures through my office window with my new camera is a bit more challenging than it was with the old camera; getting the lens camp off takes too much time. But there was a female cardinal that stayed perched on the gutter long enough for me to get a portrait.

It was a cool breezy day and the bird’s feathers are fluffed…the crest is a little rumpled too (a bad crest day?).

I noticed some leaves in the gutter; it’s not clogged yet but it could get that way with more leaves flying in the next few weeks.

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Right now – most of the leaves visible from my window are still green…with a few patches of color. The tulip poplar leaves go to yellow and

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The maple will go to red. Eventually.

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And that was my few minutes observing through the window!

HCC Fall Festival

Yesterday was the Howard County Conservancy’s annual Fall Festival at Mt. Pleasant Farm. The day started out cloudy and cool, but it cleared and was sunny in the afternoon. It was a good day to be out and after a lot of rainy days. It was still muddy enough that the hayride was cancelled for the year and there weren’t as many pumpkins, but all the other parts of the festival were ready for the event by 11…and there were a lot of people that came to enjoy the day at Mt. Pleasant.

I volunteered to help with the big map spread on the floor of the natures center. It was a big hit – just as it had been last year. The challenge once a lot of people started showing up was to remind children (and parents) to take off their shoes if they wanted to walk on the map. Nearly all the children wanted to walk on the map.


I prompted them to find where they lived…and encouraged their parents to help find where they had got to the beach or where friends lived. We figure out how to get from Columbia (where many of them lived) to Ocean City (they they’d gone to the beach) – pointing out the bay bridge that is along the route. Many lived in Ellicott City which was more challenging to find because it is not on the map and the Patapsco River is not labeled. Some children walked the Potomac River or the Appalachian trail…or stood with one foot in Maryland and another in one on of the neighboring states. One boy was able to put one foot in Maryland, DC, and Virginia! It was fun for all ages and many of the adults got into the action as well.


The permanent map on the nature center floor of the Howard County watersheds was popular too. The Patapsco River (light and dark green watersheds on this map) is often in the news because of the Ellicott City flooding but the Patuxent River drains more of the county.


After two hours of interacting with the crowds on the map…I was ready to walk around the Festival a little. I headed over to see pumpkin that had been painted. Some had already dried and been picked up, but the ones that were still on the plastic were fantastic.

And a good time was had by all.

Fall at Brookside Gardens


Last week my sister and I walked around Brookside Gardens. As we parked I noticed a tall Bald Cypress that was dropping its needles – a good sign of fall. Up close the cones were still a little green compared to the needles.


The gardens were full of plants that can survive the cooling temperatures for a little while. There was a new sculpture near the scent garden – a sphere of stones carefully pieced together without mortar. A few flowers were still blooming, and the bumble bees were active.

There was a monarch butterfly and I hoped that it would continue southward fast enough…not be caught here were we have our first frosts.


The area around the ponds and teahouse was partially closed (maybe some flood damage repair) but the bridge to the maze was a nice fall foliage scene. The maze itself has some sediment on one side – maybe washed there by recent rains.


Inside the conservatory, it was warm and lush – as usual.

The part of the conservatory that will be used for model trains during the holiday light exhibit currently has mums. The plants were formed into saguaro cactus shapes this year! It was quite different than I expected…but pleasant. The plantings are in pots, so they can be repositioned when the trains to be installed just before Thanksgiving.

Ten Little Celebrations – October 2017

October 2017 has a myriad of little celebrations – just as every month – but there was a big one this month as well: my daughter was awarded a grant that will fund her post doc research for 2 years! My husband and I celebrated as much as she did…such a relief that she can continue her work.

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There were several celebrations associated with the Staunton River Star Party:

  • Anticipating the trip…noting the improving weather forecast for sunny days and clear skies as we got closer.
  • The warmth of our mummy sleeping bags in the early morning when it dipped below 40 degrees.
  • Four clear nights for observing the stars and solar prominences observed on 2 days – what makes a star party worthwhile.

I celebrated the finale of this year’s CSA – all the fabulous fall veggies in very generous portions. I’ll miss the CSA this winter and celebrate when it begins again next June.

The butternut squash soufflé I made with maple syrup rather than sugar – fabulous.

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The butternut squash soufflé I made with maple syrup rather than sugar – fabulous.

The Fall Festival volunteering – big map and pumpkin painting – was a great way to celebrate the season too.

Bioblitz days with 5th graders are an annual celebration of nature through the eyes of students.

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Finding a caterpillar new-to-me – a sycamore tussock moth caterpillar – was something to celebrate on another day.

Visiting Soldier’s Delight was a celebration of being outdoors on a sunny fall day.

Zooming – October 2017

Using the zoom on my camera keeps be out of the tall grass (and away from the ticks and other biting insects). I spotted shelf fungus growing on stumps and trunks of trees cut down along the road to Belmont Manor and Historic Park on my way to an event…and stopped on my way out in one of the nearby pull off areas. The largest ones were growing on a large trunk facing the road but there were more in the space where a log was cut. Some of the pieces were removed but others were left to rot in place.

Another example of staying out of the tall grass, but getting the picture I wanted – milkweed seeds bursting from their pods at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area

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And some other fluffy seeds on a plant growing on the slope of our neighborhood’s storm water retention pond.

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The zoom is almost always used for bird photography….but even with the zoom they still sometimes notice me and fly away. This house finch was busy getting breakfast from the feeder.

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Sometimes zooming enables a better composition. The tree was mostly green but zooming – just a little – made the oranges and reds a more pronounced part of the picture.


This is a ‘get close’ picture rather than a zoomed picture…of the edge of a rotting stump. I liked the curves and the colors.

Belmont BioBlitz – Fall 2017 (Part II)

The second day of BioBlitz, the area my group was assigned had some native trees planted as landscaping (one was just beginning to display it fall colors) and long row of white pines. We found mushrooms under the pines; one of the chaperones used the clip on macro lens to photograph underneath the bright yellow mushroom (with the phone in selfie mode).

Of course there were insects and small flowers too….with pinecones to examine while we were enjoying the shade under the pines before heading to the front of the manor house for their picnic lunch.

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The third day of BioBlitz, my group was in the woods. We found several types of fungi growing on rotting wood.


Millipedes seemed to be everywhere. We talked about taking a video as we watched how their legs moved in ‘waves’ to push them forward.

And then there were lots of small insects we tried to capture in the magnifiers so we could get good pictures!

This was probably the best Belmont Bioblitz I’ve participated in: the weather cooperated (dry and not too hot) and the 5th graders were enthusiastic observers!

Finally - Some Rain

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The last 4 weeks have been very dry in our area with the only moisture being dew coating everything in the mornings. It’s unusual to go this long without rain although it has made the fall field trips easier for the students (into the streams/rivers or BioBlitz). It finally rained yesterday and I’m sure all the vegetation is soaking up the moisture.

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It might be too late for the fall foliage to recover enough to show vivid colors. Some trees have already lost their leaves…a very brief and muted color change then leaves swirling. I’m still hopeful that the trees behind our house will show their typical colors since the leaves are still on the trees and green. The color in our backyard usually peaks just before Halloween.

The status of our trees before the rain: cherry (leaves already on the ground), plum and oak (about half the leaves already on the ground), tulip poplar (about 1/3 leaves yellow and the rest are still green), maple (leaves green), sycamore (some curling brown leaves on the tree and ground, still about half the leaves are green and still on the tree).

After a few days of rain – we’ll see what happens.

Fall Cleaning

I am trying to pay a little more attention to the house between volunteer work. My new – and favorite – tool is a long-handled scrub brush that I bought about a month ago. Why did I not buy one before rather than delay any job that required scrubbing on my hands and knees? Now I make quick work of the tile floor in the bathrooms (cleaner than they’ve been in years) and the shower stall (base and lower walls), and even scrubbing in carpet cleaner that later gets vacuumed up.

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I might have to get one for outdoors – the deck and the garage – because this one is for indoors only!

Howard County Conservancy’s Fall Fest 2017

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Last Saturday was Howard County Conservancy’s annual Fall Fest. I volunteered for the whole day. I went early since my first assignment was an activity new to the festival. It was good to be there when it was still relatively calm with just the vendors, volunteers, and staff getting ready – because the event was very well attended; toward the end of the day, one of the staffers said there had been about 1,500 cars (so double or triple that for numbers of people!). I know that both activities I helped with were busy the entire time.

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The first segment was inside the Nature Center and was a giant map of Maryland provided by National Geographic that took up most of the floor. There were activities that came with the map designed for grades 3-4 classrooms…so I modified them for a walkup audience and varying ages of children. The first requirement was ‘socks only’ – what child doesn’t like taking off their shoes! Even some of the parents joined in. The ages skewed younger so I encouraged them the ‘walk the Potomac River’ either from western Maryland down to the Chesapeake Bay or from the Chesapeake Bay to the west. Almost everyone wanted to find where they lived on the map….I added to that by asking how they would get from their house to the beach and they had great fun finding the Bay Bridge and then Ocean City or the Delaware beaches. Many of the parents helped their children find where various family members lived. Some children walked the Appalachian Trail (an orange dashed line on the map. Others plopped themselves down on the map along a state boundary. Toddlers holding onto a grandparent or parent walked across the map – often standing in the ‘blue.’  Many people noticed that the highest point of Maryland was in the far west of the state…and the big bays: Chesapeake and Delaware.

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I took a short break to sit down and eat a sandwich…then I was off to pumpkin painting. The activity was done on two paper covered picnic tables under an awning beside the farm stand selling small pumpkins. 8-10 children could be painting at the same time. The tables were set up with cups of paint and brushes…and my job was too try to keep the brushes in one color and the cups supplied with paint….wipe up the splatters on the paper when they got too thick. The original idea was to replace the paper during the day be there was never a slow time so the wiping kept them from getting too messy. The pumpkins were put on paper beside Montjoy Barn to dry; they were picked up as people left the event.

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The hay ride (large wagon pulled by a tractor) line was near the pumpkin painting. There was a line every time I looked!

It was a busy day and the two places I worked were full of people enjoying a fall day. Maybe next year I’ll have time to walk around see more aspects of the festival!

Raking Oak Leaves

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I’ve raked the leaves falling from our oak tree twice already this year. My typical tools are the rake for the leaves and then a broom for the crushed acorns in the driveway and street gutter.  Today I remembered to take before and after pictures.

I had cleared 4 trash cans full of leaves from the gutter and grass closest to the street just a few days ago and was surprised that were so many leaves to be raked.

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5 trash cans full of leaves and a half trash can of acorn debris later – the yard looks better but I realized that the tree still looks like it has a lot of leaves! This is not the last raking of the fall for this tree.

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I also noticed that the acorn debris seemed to be more ‘hats’ that the nut itself. Maybe the neighborhood squirrels have been retrieving more of the acorns that fall on the driveway!